Sunday, April 13, 2014

Lunch Love Notes

I recently saw (as in a few months ago) a picture my friend had posted of the adorable lunch she put together for her son. I noticed the little note on top.  It reminded me that I'd wanted to put notes in Eleanor's lunch like that since the first day Eleanor started Kindergarten. Of course, I never had.

My friends picture pompted me to make sure I wrote a note for her lunch the very next day.

The note looked something like this one. (This is a much more recent one, but I didn't save the first note. Sue me).

Granted, this was not my BEST note. I'd almost forgotten and was feeling rushed in the morning, and I hurriedly wrote the note. I know she can't read them, but her teacher can, and her teacher doesn't mind reading the little notes I send (I know, I asked).

But I keep sending the notes, no matter how rushed I am, because that first morning I sent her a note in her lunch she came running into my classroom, eyes bright and gave me the biggest hug and kiss I think I've ever received from her. She gushed about the note, and how much she loved me, and then ran off to play with her friends.

After school her teacher caught me and told me all about how much Eleanor lit up when she pulled out that note from her lunch, and how much it meant to Eleanor.

After school as we drove home, the first thing she wanted to talk about was the note.

"Can you send me a note in my lunch everyday, mom?"

How could anyone with a heart say no to that?

So, I write lunch love notes every day, even if they are written sloppy, as I rush around in the morning. Because those notes, even though she doesn't run into my room every day to give me the biggest hugs in the world anymore, mean the world to her.

It's always the little things that add up to be the most important things in the end.

Annabelle's Disney FROZEN 4th Birthday Party

Earlier this month Over a month ago now, (I began writing this post in March, I promise) Annabelle, my baby, turned four. Be still my heart. I do not know how this is possible. I know they say that times flies when your children are little, but man! Time does fly.

Last year, Annabelle wanted a strawberry birthday cake, and so we did a simple (and small) birthday party with a strawberry cake at her third birthday party. This year, Annabelle requested, nay - begged, pleaded, cajoled for - a Frozen birthday party. At first I was apprehensive, but I had fun searching Pinterest and the inter-webs for some fun, Frozen inspired party ideas - and somehow pulled off a party in the middle of a very busy and hectic quarter at work. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Here is some of the fun that we had celebrating the last four years that we've had with our Annabelle. The girl who sings her prayers, bounces as she walks, and hops, skips, jumps her way through life. My little sprite who loves bugs, snakes, and dressing up in all the fancy clothes. . . "for fashion, mommy!"

The morning of the party I made the mistake of leaving out some of the treats I'd made, and woke up to Eleanor telling me to "Come quick, before Annabelle eats them all!"

I ran out of the room and found Annabelle hidden under a desk behind a chair eating one of these:

I finally got the hang of making these marshmallow pops, and was very proud of how they turned out.  Luckily, Annabelle had only eaten 2 before I caught her. 
I didn't get a picture of it, but I had these little jars with three pops scattered around the tables, and corner hutch. 
It's April, and they are still there. . . (What haven't been snatched and gobbled up by the girls)

 Thanks to etsy, I found this banner so I could print out the triangles and arrange and attach them on some thick brown twine I had laying around
 Ordered these from amazon, and then discovered they sell them at party city for cheaper. Whoops! 
 I tried fixing the Anna doll's hair for the party decor, but it was to no avail. The doll is well loved, as you can see. 
 Olaf Snowmen Donuts and Jello "Ice" Cubes - so yummy! 

 The "Melted Snow" label I also found on Etsy, and with the condensation, it just wrapped right onto the pitcher without needing anything else and stayed that way for pretty much the entire party.  
 I actually had cut the cheese into the shape of a snowflake for some of the pizza's, but . . . well, that didn't turn out like I thought it might. Obviously. What was I thinking?

 Some more of our food 

Split Pea Soup turned into perfect Troll Soup (I had a neighbor boy help me write this food card because I was running out of time, and he wanted to help, in case you're wondering about the 'Trool Soup") 

The cake! I had fun trying my hand for the first time making an ice cream cake. I did things a little different than the directions I found, and I was really please with out it came out. I didn't pull the cake out right away for the party, but the ice cream didn't melt (even though my ice castle began drooping a little and had to be fixed mid-way through the party)

 Someone was a little excited about her cake. . . 

 Love that cheesy smile! 

Still trying to wrap my head around the fact that she is already four years old.

Party details: I found the idea for this ice cream cake, with whipped cream frosting, decorated with homemade hard candy from Rachel at blog here. I fell in love with the cake, and so did Annabelle. It was probably my favorite thing about the party. That, and the olaf snowmen I made, also from Rachel's blog, and everything else thing I pretty much copied exactly from Rachel's post on throwing a Disney's Frozen Party, which can be found here

I had tried making snowflake cookies, and those turned into a big ol' flop. Go ahead and laugh. 

I was trying to cut some corners, and made them out of a store bough sugar cookie dough instead of making the dough from scratch. Since, seriously, who has time for that? Not me.

I also had cut out cheese with a smaller snowflake cookie cutter, and put them on crackers, but apparently we didn't get pictures of those.

Happy birthday (a month belated) to my sweet Annabelle Mae. We are so very grateful that God placed you in our lives, and entrusted you to our care. We are blessed beyond words.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Frozen: Our Real Life Broadway Musical

Ever since we went and saw Disney's Frozen last Thanksgiving the girls have been obsessed. I mean, obsessed.

I didn't know anything about the movie going into the theater, which is how I like it when watching movies, actually. I had zero expectations. Had heard zero about the movie, other than that it was the newest Disney creation.

I won't give out any spoilers, because you have to see the movie - but I'll just say, it is by far my favorite Disney movie that I've seen yet. Go and see it. Even you, grown men.

If you want spoilers, you can look up some great reviews about the movie, and why its so amazing like: Why Frozen Is Such a Big Hit and 20 Reasons Frozen is the Best Disney Movie Yet

Yes, I'll say it. Frozen is the best Disney movie yet.

There are two princesses. They are named Elsa and Anna. Eleanor and Annabelle? Ella and Anna? Yeah, the girls picked up on that rather quick. They're not dumb. The movie was made for them. Made especially for them. They don't have to fight over who is which princess. They know. Ella is Elsa, Annabelle is Anna. I've never heard one peep out of either of them that they mind this at all.

So, as soon as the movie was over the girls begged to see it again. As in, lets turn around and do that again. I have the movie on pre-order from Amazon so that it will arrive as soon as it gets here. We stocked up on Frozen gifts for Christmas, and of course, when I asked Annabelle what kind of birthday party she wanted she yelled "A Frozen party! Frozen everything, party! I want a Frozen cake, and a to play dress up, and sing the songs!"

Oh yes, sing the songs. We sing the songs. Thank you, YouTube for having karaoke versions of the songs for us to spend countless hours listening to, and watching mini-clips from the movie to keep the girls addiction sated until the actual DVD arrives in hand sometime late March.

Lately, the girls have taken to re-enacting the musical scenes from the movie. Like this:

Daddy even can't help but get in and join the fun, too.

They have begged for Elsa and Anna hairdo's, and they sing the songs in the car, at the dinner table, and as they're falling asleep. They are constantly dressing up in their only Frozen dress up outfit (we couldn't find the Elsa dress for Christmas . . . I only had four hours to shop for Christmas presents this year, don't judge).

I've never been that big into Disney movies, and I never thought I'd throw a "Disney" princess party for my girls - but there's something different about this movie that makes me not bat an eye at any of it. I mean, when a movie teaches you about what true love really is, and that "some people are worth melting for," and throws all the cliche's of Disney movies out the window. . . can you blame me?

And the songs really are catchy. They have the perfect mix of being rhythmically addicting, and educational.  It's biggest hit "Let It Go" belts about "frozen fractals?"Yay for science/math references! Another song lyrics sing about being "compassionate?" Great job building my children's vocabulary and their character. In "Love is an Open Door," they sing about 'synchronization,' and I'm pretty sure my girls understand what it means now.

Thank you, Disney, for turning our lives into a Frozen Broadway Musical.  Thank you for teaching my girls about unconditional love. Especially about the unconditional love between two sisters.


Sunday, February 16, 2014

What I Like About You

Every year Grandma Craig gives the girls a gift bag of goodies for Valentines day. They're filled with all kinds of treasures, but always a new book picked out and signed and dated with love.

This year she tucked in the book "What I Like About You" by Colleen Ludington
Annabelle begged me to read, as she does every night, and as I flipped through the pages I instantly fell in love.

"I could search the world over, from here to TImbuktu, But I never would find someone else just like you," the book starts out.

I love the message, the rhythm of the words, and the way that it ends:

"But you have a purpose no one else can fulfill; No one can replace you - no one ever will."

Annabelle tugged at my arm, "what do you like about me?"

I tweeked her nose, took a deep breath, and dove into her little game - filling her mind with all the things I think, but realized I never tell her aloud - not enough that is - not on purpose, anyhow.

"You know what I like about you? I love your smile, and your giggles. I love the silly things you say. I love how you always want to help, and I love the prayers that you pray. I love how you sing your heart out, and I love how you dance. I love the way you cuddle, and the kisses that you give. I love your curly hair, and your big brown eyes. I love the way you run, and I love the way you hide. I love how you play with your sister, and how you help with Grandma whenever you can. I love that you are caring, and kind, sweet, and silly. I love that you have such a sense of fashion, and a flare for what to wear. I love that you are a free spirit, and never cares what anyone thinks. I love how much you love animals, and have a special way to communicate with them. I love that you dig in the dirt, play with bugs, and aren't afraid of spiders or snakes. I love how you can walk into a room full of strangers and yell "Hi, friends!" because to you, they are.  You are creative, and cooky, and perfectly you. You are growing each day into the amazing girl God created you to be. No one can replace you, no one ever will."

With each word that I said, I watched as those big brown eyes grew brighter and brighter, her smile bigger and wider.

Eleanor bounced in her bed, "What about me? What do you like about me!?"

I climbed up the latter, and I wiggled her nose. "Be patient, little one. I was just coming for you. You know what I like about you? I love the way you wake up every morning with a stretch and a yawn, but never a fuss. I love how you put your arms around my neck, squeeze your legs around my middle, and how your face fits perfectly in the crook of my neck. I love how you work so hard in school, and are a friend to everyone you meet - and never leave anyone out. I love how you organize your toys and your clothes, and help me remember all that I need to do. I love how you can memorize anything you put your mind to - but especially all of the bible verses your teachers teach you. I love how you can climb, and swing on the monkey bars, and how strong you are - inside and out. I love how you are learning to play the piano, and are so good about practicing your lessons. I love that you are thoughtful, and think about the world, and all the people that are in it. I love how much you care: about the littlest creatures, to the way the whole world works. I love how you have God in your heart, and not just your head. You are perfect, just the way you are. No one can replace you, no one ever will."

With each word that I said, I watched as those big brown eyes grew brighter and brighter, her smile bigger and wider.

"Is that all?"

"Not even close, kiddo. I'm just scratching the surface of all the things I love about you girls."

There's no replacement for telling the little people (and even the big) who you love just exactly why you love them, why they are unique, and why they can never be replaced. The more specific and detailed you get,  the more they'll bloom right before your eyes.

I can't wait to make this a new nightly tradition. I want to make special photo books out of all the many and unique ways I love each of my daughters, and I can't wait to see how much more they'll grow in self-conficance and self-esteem as they are reminded constantly of just how amazing, talented, smart, creative, loving, and special they are - just because they are who they are.


The Scar

I pulled the quilt sprayed in delicate pink flowers up to Eleanor's chin. Wiggling under the covers, she turned to face me. Her dimple flashed, her smile infected me and I leaned in to kiss her cheek.

Pulling back I brushed my fingertips to the scar above her left eyebrow. "Do you remember getting this?"

She nodded. "I was spinning and spinning and went head first into a corner of a desk." She paused, and our eyes met. "We were with Grandpa Jack, at his new home."

I sucked in air through my teeth and nodded, shocked that she still remembered. She would have just turned three a few months before when she got the scar. I can remember every detail like it was yesterday. How Eleanor was showing off for Grandpa, and how Annabelle toddled over to the gate that closed us into the living room of the new care home we moved Dad into. I remember how Annabelle pinched her fingers in the gate, and screamed so loud Eleanor's head snapped over, and she tried to stop her spin, but instead she flew into the corner of a large, ornate desk pushed up against the side of the room. A desk that had been completely off my radar of possible dangers. I remember how Grandpa Jack scooped up Annabelle and shushed her, while I scooped up Eleanor, her head buried into my shoulder, both girls screaming. I remember Eleanor pulling her head back from my shoulder and the blood that poured down her face, and soaked into my sweater. I can still feel how my heart stopped beating, and I lost all the air from my lungs, but my Dad was there - shushing Annabelle, holding her close. Helping me so I didn't fall apart completely.

I remember the nurses coming in, and leading me to a bathroom. "I'll stay here with Annabelle," Dad assured. I nodded and ran off following the nurse. We found a bathroom, and the nurse calmed and cleaned the blood off of Eleanor, helped me bandage her head.

My hands shook as I attempted to help clean the blood. "Should I take her to the ER? Will she need stitches?"
The kind nurse smiled, "No, head wounds bleed a lot, but see," she lifted the tissue from the wound, "its not bleeding anymore. She'll be find. No need for stitches."

I nodded mutely, and held Eleanor close. The nurse held open the bathroom door, and I followed her out and back to the living room. I can still see plainly Annabelle sitting on dad's knee, he was singing her songs and bouncing her up and down. I can see how happy she was, no longer crying. I can see how happy they both were together.

I took in another deep breath, and focused on the present. Focused on my now five and a half year old girl, and the two year old scar shining white on her forehead back at me.

"You can look at my scar, and remember him, mom. Whenever you get sad, just look at my scar and he'll be there. You don't have to be sad. " She smiled so sweetly again, that dimple flashing. The tears threatened to pour down my cheeks, but I held them in check.

"Yes, sweetie, I will." I leaned down again and kissed her scar. "Whenever I see your scar, I will remember Grandpa Jack, and how much he loved us."

"Good! I like remembering that too. I'm glad I have my scar."

As I turned out the lights, I couldn't help but thank how grateful I truly was for that memory, for those moments, for the time we had together - even the blood, tears, screams, and the scar that would be there to always remind us about that deep love he had for us.


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Processing Death with My Girls

After I found out that my father died, and then breaking down, I pulled myself together enough to make all the phone calls I needed to. After a few hours passed by, I realized I'd still have to tell the girls when they woke up in the morning. They'd gone to bed not twenty minutes before I'd gotten 'the call,' but there was no point to wake them with the news.

After a sleepless night the girls finally crawled into bed, looked at me, and knew something bad had happened. I explained that Grandpa Jack had died, and I was sad. Very, very sad.

Eleanor's response at first made me even sadder. She didn't seem sad, or phased in the least.
"But, we'll see him in Heaven, mom," she said, her tone saying "Duh, why are you so sad?"

"But I may live until I'm a 100, and right now that seems like a really long wait to see him again until that happens, and I'm going to miss him a lot."

She took that in, and nodded understandingly. We pulled out the Grandpa Jack photo album my aunt Helen had made for Eleanor as a baby shower gift, having the foresight to know that she may grow up not knowing her Grandpa Jack. We talked, about his life, and we pulled out all the memories the girls had of them together with Grandpa.

"I didn't see him a lot, mommy. I wish I knew him more," Eleanor said, and my heart sunk even more at the truth in her words.

They didn't know their Grandpa Jack, not really. Despite him living with us when Eleanor was a baby, and me caring for him until we moved from Elk Grove a year and half before - they didn't really know their grandpa. Realizing that hit me hard. I knew what I lost, and I knew what they'd lost, and couldn't yet fathom. Perhaps, would never be able to fathom.

Throughout the day, weeks, and over the month that has followed, they have done and said things that I want to remember about my dad's death. I'm so mad at myself that I haven't done a better job of writing them all down. We have had so many great conversations.

When we went to the funeral home to sign the death certificate, make the arrangements, and purchase his casket, Eleanor asked what a casket was. Brandon showed her pictures and and let her know that they are where people sleep until Jesus comes. Her response was, "Oh they look like treasure chests, they are treasures for Jesus!" 

The funeral director, actually an old friend of ours from when we lived in Lodi, was so wonderful, that when I asked if we could see my father before they got him all made up - he had no problems letting us. I went in with my Aunt Helen, and Brandon took the girls with him to the car. I didn't even think to ask them if they wanted to come and see him. None of us did. After we had spent considerable time with him, we realized that we should give Brandon the chance to come and see Dad too. But when Helen left to get him, instead of just him coming back into the room - all four of them did. When the girls realized that they were going to miss out on a chance to see Grandpa Jack, they wanted none of it. They needed to see him too. I'll never forget that moment when they saw him, and how Annabelle came up so sweetly next to him, and touched his hand, and stroked his face so gently, and said "I love you, Grandpa Jack." 

Then, as we left the funeral home, driving west into the setting sun and sky streaked in beatiful reds, and golds, Eleanor began singing "Kumbay-ya My Lord," all the verses. She explained, "because it's a song of peace, Momma." 

The other night Eleanor said, "I wonder what it feels like to die."
Annabelle quickly responded, very matter-of-factly, "Oh, you go to a very dark place, and they cut off your skin so you can see your bones."
"Oh, huh, okay," Eleanor said, totally okay with the answer. They moved on, playing, not batting an eyelash.

Last night Annabelle said, "I know where Grandpa Jack is, he's in the lawn getting his skin peeled off so he can see Jesus again."
You see, we've tried explaining how after death the body decomposes, and how our souls are waiting until Jesus comes again before we are resurrected into new bodies. I love how her mind has taken this information to process it into something she can understand, and not be bothered by it at all. It's just part of life.

Tonight, as I was getting a little weepy looking at some more pictures, Eleanor said. "It must be so peaceful being dead, though, mom. Grandma Jack is just resting. I think I'd like to be dead so I can be just resting, and then the next thing I know, I'll see Jesus, like your dad gets to!"

Now, I'm not thrilled with her idea of wanting to die - but I am glad she has such a solid faith in what is to come, and in Jesus's plan of redemption for us. So many of her prayers have been for "Mommy not to be so sad anymore about Grandma Jack," because she knows what is to come - and she's not worried about anything. Why should her mom be sad when its not a goodbye forever, but a "I'll see you later."

I want to see life from their perspective.  I want the faith of my children. I want the calm assuredness that there is nothing in this life to worry about, nor to be sad about, not even death.

Christ has won that battle.

Even so, come, Lord Jesus. Come.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Lessons Learned in 2013

I thought about writing a 2013 in review post, and then realized I neither have the time, nor the desire. So, I'm not going to. Instead, I wanted to reflect on what I've learned in 2013, and write some lessons that have come out of it.

In 2013 I learned that:

Camera phone pictures are nice, but camera phone pictures just don't cut it. I need to stop being lazy and get back to taking pictures with a real camera. I want to take quality pictures of my family and life. Maybe by the end of the year I'll have been able to save up enough to buy myself a real camera so I can record the precious moments we have on this earth in better clarity. :)

I cannot be lax in my health. I stopped working out in 2013. I stopped eating the way I know is the best for my body (nutritarian 'aka "Eat to Live" by Dr. Joel Furhman). I gained almost twenty pounds since the start of the year. That bowl of ice cream every night sitting on the couch doesn't taste nearly as good as being healthy feels.

What people say about you doesn't define who you are. This one has been a lesson two years in the making. I've had so many people try to define my actions for me, tell me what I've done and why I've done it. I have had people consistently put a negative spin on the positive things I tried to do, and the decisions I've made for our family. For a long time this depressed me, and held me back. Through the year(s), and listening to the council of others, reading great books, and reaching a place I never wanted to be, I'm happy to say I've made a turn-around. The only people that defines who you are, are you and God.

I'm walking away from other people's judgements and criticisms in 2014, and holding my head high.

“There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally.” ~Don Miguel Ruiz

I can still write. After taking back to teaching in 2012, I felt like I was giving up my dream of being a writer too. I wouldn't have time. I would be too busy. Yes, at first I was too busy. I had no energy at the end of the day, and I needed time to settle in. I learned that I can still teach, and write. I may not have as much time for it, but I still had time in the day to carve out and write. Learning this was so revelatory for me, it lifted such a huge weight from my shoulders that I felt like a whole new person. I managed to get a short story published, add another 5-6 K words to my 'grand project,' pound out 30K on another story, and another 15K on yet another story.  I can't say it any better than Umberto Eco.

The southwest is one of my favorite places on earth. After taking our two week road trip this summer across Arizona, Utah, and Colorado, I re-discovered the beauty in red earth, ancient dwellings, dear friends, and the journeys we take together as a family. The road is the place to be, to discover the amazing countryside that God blessed us with.

I can be a working mom and enjoy it. The first year going back to teaching after having children was more emotionally painful than I ever thought it would be. But as time wore on, the more I realized how my children were thriving, how our family was thriving, the more I allowed myself to really enjoy my job. There is still a part of me that is sad to admit that I enjoy being a working mom, but I have learned not to be burdened by the guilt that it brought.

Hearing the words "I'm sorry, you're father died," can knock you off your feet, and steal the breath right out of your chest. Both my grandfathers have already died, and I grieved their passing. But when they died, it was expected. They weren't doing well, and they had no chance of coming back from their Alzheimer's/Lewy Body Dementia. Was my father doing well? Not really. He hadn't been doing great since I was six. But his death wasn't imminent. I held out hopes that we could find a cure for him, that he'd rebound, that there'd be a medicine, or miraculously he'd come back to who he was when I was a kid. I have grieved before, but I feel like I've actually learned what grieving is now. I still have that hollowness in my chest, that horrible ache in my heart.

I grieve too, for all that we never were able to have together. All that his health problems took away from him, and robbed him, and us, of. I think I hurt the most knowing how hard his life was, and how lonely he was when he died. Despite being in a good home, despite getting calls and visits from his daughters - I know he wanted more from life. I grieve because I couldn't give him more, do more, and that all that we tried to do wasn't enough. I rejoice knowing he doesn't suffer anymore, but I grieve despite that. Despite knowing, and having assurance in seeing him in Heaven, whole and healthy. Despite all that, the years on earth that stretch between now and then seem so long. Too long.
Every moment we are given here on earth really is a gift, and we don't know when it could be our last. I don't want to waste another moment being angry, depressed, wallowing in my self-doubt, self-hate, self-anything. I want to focus on living life to the fullest, and taking every opportunity to spill love out to those around me.

2013 had some hard lessons to learn from, but despite the sadness, and grief, there was beauty, and strength, building of relationships, and nurturing of family, soul, and mind. I wish I could say I was grateful for all the lessons I learned this year, but I'm not. I'm grateful I'm here. I'm grateful for my family. I'm grateful for God, and love, and healing. I'm grateful for new years, new beginnings.

I am so ready for 2014, and the lessons I'll learn from this year, whatever they may be.